Features Feb 18, 2016 | 12:08 AMby WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni

A look back at Tata Steel Chess

It’s been two weeks since the conclusion of the 78th Tata Steel Chess Tournament where World Champion Magnus Carlsen won the event for a fifth time, thus equaling Viswanathan Anand’s record. That much is widely known. So instead of focusing on actual chess, I will take you on a Wijk aan Zee review journey to see what is going on behind the scenes.

It was just after 6 o´clock in the morning (a painfully early start!) when I set off on my journey to the small Dutch village of Wijk aan Zee on the 25th of January. It was my third visit to this traditional tournament, but the last one dates back six years and the first one, incredibly, was eleven years ago.

Enjoying a sunny day on the beach with the Mamedyarov siblings back in 2005 | photos: Pitou Antoni

Talking with Nigel Short, my first (tentative) journalist steps, in 2010 | photo: Jean-Michel Péchiné

While digging through my old pictures, I stumbled across the following gem, which I can't refrain from sharing. In 2010 — when the quality of my camera left much to be desired and the tournament was still called Corus — Anish Giri won the B-Group and Magnus Carlsen the A-Group. A year later, Anish went on to beat Magnus in what famously remains their only decisive classical encounter to this day.

Anish Giri and Magnus Carlsen at the final press conference in 2010 | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

The second I stepped out of the train at Beverwijk station I spotted a bus saying ‘Wijk aan Zee’ (with a population of just 2,400, there is no train station), on which I was soon joined by none other than IM Yochanan Afek, the famous Israeli chess study composer who, besides organising a problem solving competition, was also participating in one of the side events himself.

Yochanan Afek during one of his games |photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Yochanan remarked that I seemed to have brought some good weather with me, and the sun was indeed shining (a very rare occurrence in Wijk!) as I made my way to Hotel Zeeduin, a beautiful place whose perks include close proximity to the Netherlands' broadest beach and, more importantly, serving breakfast until Noon.

My own Tata Steel Chess badge

It was 13:00 by the time I checked in, so I immediately hurried back to the playing hall for the start of round nine. Curiously, I was later told, the reason the rounds start then is that Dutch people generally have dinner quite early in the evening, and years ago the wife of one of the arbiters insisted that her husband not come home too late! (The story may well be apocryphal, but I like it anyway.)

After getting my eagerly anticipated accreditation — my first mission for chess24 — it was time to enter the huge playing hall. The venue had undergone a make-over for this edition, and I really liked the new design depicting the Wijk aan Zee "skyline". On the other side of the wall, a slew of player quotes was also a nice touch.

The magnificent and newly decorated playing hall: De Moriaan | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Strategy requires thought. Tactics require observation.

Max Euwe

Speaking of strategy and tactics, I spotted a few familiar faces in the playing hall, chess24’s very own Anna Rudolf (Miss Strategy) and Sopiko Guramishvili (Miss Tactics)!

Anna Rudolf and Sopiko Guramishvili | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Tata on Tour

The following day was the second and last venture of ‘Tata on Tour’, where play switched to an outside location to further advertise the tournament and chess in general, but also to try and find new funds for future events. This is the third year of the tour days, which attests to the success of the first two attempts. In 2014 the Masters played a round at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and one at the High Tech Campus in Eindhoven, while in 2015 play was set at the Political Press Centre Nieuwspoort in Den Haag and at De Rotterdam (a famous building designed by Rem Koolhaas), naturally in Rotterdam.

At 11:15 the bus set off for the Utrecht Railway Museum (‘Het Spoorwegmuseum’), which was both a magnificent and interesting setting.

The Utrecht Railway museum made for a nice group picture in Utrecht | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

It was not only the beautiful location which made for a special round, but especially the fact that around 3000 people attended the round over the course of the day! I am not sure I have ever seen so many spectators at a single round, and even Tournament Director Jeroen Van Den Berg later told me he hadn’t expected anything like this.

A small sample of the mass public turnout in Utrecht | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

As an aside, I was very impressed to find out Jeroen has been part of the organising team for 33 years (and Tournament Director for 17 of them) and how he and his team keep coming up with innovative and interesting ideas, despite the fact this such a traditional tournament.

The following video (in Dutch) will give you a good impression of what a special day it was for everyone, from the players, to the many chess fans — including dozens of school children — to the sponsors, and the city of Utrecht itself.

The next day was a rest day and as luck would have it also the only sunny day of my stay (I mentioned it was sunny the day I arrived, but in fact "the hour I arrived" would have been more precise). First, I set out on a lengthy beach stroll, where along the way I bumped into a cheerful Hou Yifan, before meeting David Navara for the interview published here a week ago.

Hou Yifan is no stranger to Wijk aan Zee | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

The next three days, while mostly devoted to work, were not without a fair share of funny and entertaining moments, like the time I was accosted by a group of young men while taking pictures in the playing hall. One of them asked me to take a picture of he and his friends, but they were clearly embarrassed, and disappeared before he could finish his question. I later bumped into them again and it turned out they didn’t just want a picture of them, but with me in it, as they had recognised me as a chess24 commentator.

Thanks to our readers for helping me out with the names! So from left to right: Ivo Knottnerus, Tjark Vos, Hing Ting Lai, Henk Boot and Laurens Schilstra.

The guy standing next to me in the picture was the one who had first come up to me and by far the quirkiest one of the group. He was clearly a big chess24 fan too, as he kept asking me whether I could provide him with a free Premium membership. I told him I was afraid that was above my powers, but hopefully finding his picture here will make up for it!  (If you guys recognise yourselves, let me know in the comments section below and I will make sure to add your names to this photo!)

And it wasn’t just the amateurs having fun; even the grandmasters were often seen sharing a laugh backstage. Here Anish Giri and his coach Vladimir Tukmakov, appear to find a bit of Loek van Wely humor terribly amusing, as Michael Adams kibitzes.

Another quote from the playing hall wall comes from Judit Polgar:

Chess is a fantastic game for everybody: rich, poor, girl, boy, old young. It can unite people and generations.

Yet the photo below is not just another advertisement for chess being a game for people of all ages and genders. No, it is none other than GM Jorden van Foreest’s little sister Machteld, who at age 8 is already rated 1658 and scored a more than respectable 5/9 in her group. On the right, you might recognise the famous photographer Fred Lucas, who I was sad to learn has completely given up on photography and now enjoys the game as a player instead.

Machteld van Foreest and Fred Lucas | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

But returning to the main event, one could have wished for more suspense going into the last round. Fabiano Caruana and Ding Liren still had a theoretical chance of catching Magnus Carlsen, but in the end Caruana suffered a defeat at the hands of Tomashevsky and so the only question was whether Magnus would manage to win the infamous rook and bishop against rook ending against Ding. The World Champion later said it was the first time he had had this ending in a classical game, and the Chinese player defended perfectly securing a draw by stalemate after 99 moves.

Magnus Carlsen exiting the playing hall after securing yet another tournament victory | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Adhiban basking in Challengers glory

Things were a lot tenser in the Challengers group, where three players maintained realistic chances of winning the tournament, going into the last round. Adhiban and Alexey Dreev were leading the field with 8.5/12, while Eltaj Safarli trailed by just half a point. At the end of the day, the three players shared first place with 9/13, but it was Adhiban who had the best tiebreak (having beaten both Dreev and Safarli), and so was not only declared tournament winner, but also qualified for next year’s Masters Group.

Here’s what the happy and deserving winner had to say after the closing ceremony:

I also had the opportunity to talk to the Chinese wunderkind Wei Yi on the last night. I am sure his English will improve in the years to come, but his friendly manner and exciting games more than make up for any language shortcomings.

Speaking of the closing ceremony, this particular one was one of the best I have witnessed so far. The setting was very rustic, with long wooden benches and tables on which the traditional pea soup was served for dinner. Tata Steel’s very own orchestra (corporate orchestras are now rare in Europe) was in charge of the musical accompaniment. On top of that, all the speeches were short and sweet earning high marks for entertainment.

The calm before the storm, or at least before the traditional pea soup was served | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Aside from the main trophies, a few special prizes were also handed out. The ‘Vugar Gashimov fair play prize’ was awarded by his brother Sarkhan Gashimov, to David Navara and Jorden van Foreest, while special guest Professor Johan van Hulst (who had turned 105 just a few days earlier) gave the prize for the most promising talent to Wei Yi and Jorden van Foreest.

Left: Jorden van Foreest, Sarkhan Gashimov and David Navara
Right: Wei Yi, Professor Johan van Hulst, and van Foreest (again!) | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

My favourite moment of the evening, however, was when Adhiban, called on stage to receive his prize, was asked by IM Hans Böhm whether he thought he deserved to win the tournament. After briefly feigning surprise, Adhiban retorted ‘Of course!’ and general laughter ensued.

Adhiban being awarded the Challengers trophy and Magnus with the Masters' in hand | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

However, Adhiban was not the only one to charm the audience, as Magnus Carlsen also had a very special winner’s speech in store. Here were the highlights in the eyes of Anna Rudolf and Sopiko Guramishvili including excerpts from the speeches of Carlsen and Professor van Hulst.

(For more like this from Anna & Sopiko, see their playlist in the Chess Videos topic of Community)

Happy faces: the tournament winners and organisers (with Lennart Ootes striking the DAB pose) | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

After the closing ceremony a bus was waiting to bring the players back to town which obviously made for a perfect opportunity to chat, seeing as everyone seemed to be in high spirits after an enjoyable evening.

Don’t ask me how it came about, but I had the following little exchange with Anish Giri (who was boasting about his matchmaking skills and trying to find a suitable partner for me!):

Anish: You are single, aren’t you?

Me: You seem to know more about my private life than I do.

Anish: You seem to be so happy, so I assumed you would be! [General laughter from our fellow riders!]

Anish was clearly in a cheerful mood after saving a lost position against Hou Yifan just a couple of hours earlier.

Me: So what successes as a matchmaker can you look back upon so far?

Anish: Well, I got [a certain GM who shall remain nameless] to actually talk to a girl, so that was already a big success. I am trying to do the same with Magnus, but haven’t succeeded so far!

He raised his voice for this last bit, trying to catch the ear of the World Champion, who was sitting just a few rows away. This of course garnered still more laughter, but I am unsure whether Magnus actually heard him.

Upon returning to the hotel and before heading out for some ‘funchess’, I briefly chatted with the winner about his tournament performance and his future plan:

Thanks to Anna Rudolf for being my camerawoman and also (inadvertently) giving Magnus the chance for some banter revenge; she asked him to sign a copy of the latest issue of New in Chess magazine and Magnus happily obliged while joking ‘I have actually read this one — usually I don’t read anything that has Anish on the cover.’ [The cover photo is actually of Magnus himself, but the Qatar story was written by Giri.]

In town we met up with an extended Azeri team (Mamedyarov, Safarli, Abasov and Sarkan Gashimov, as well as Batsiashvili and Dreev), before being joined by even more chess firepower, in the form of Sergey Karjakin and Pavel Eljanov.

The players were not yet aware of the test they would soon face courtesy of Mamedyarov | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

Shakhriyar decided it was time to put his fellow grandmasters to a little test. He set up the following position, asked me to set a timer and announced they would have just 30 seconds to find the winning move.

White to play and win

Time passed and passed and when the timer reached close to five minutes, Shakhriyar decided he had had enough and requested everyone to give a first move. It was reluctantly that the players agreed and after all coming up with different propositions, he happily announced they were all wrong!

A visibly perplexed crowd of grandmasters | photo: Fiona Steil-Antoni

We'll provide the solution in the comments on Friday, so meanwhile you can try to find it yourselves. Here’s a little hint: there are actually two winning moves, but both have the same idea.


The two winning moves are 1.Q‌e1 and 1.Qe2, both with the idea of simply defending the f2 pawn. The point is that now Black is unable to avoid 2.Rc8 followed by 3.Qe8 (or at least not without giving up huge material), with mate on the back rank. 

Try to solve Mamedyarov's puzzle yourself | photos: Fiona Steil-Antoni

When I asked Shak how he had come across this position (which is taken from an actual game) he laughingly replied, ‘I know all the games in the world!’

Mecca of the chess world

I would highly recommend visiting the tournament at least once in your life, as it well and truly is the Mecca of the chess world. Next year’s dates have been announced already, so you can put January 13-29 down in your diaries.

And finally, if you do go to Wijk aan Zee, the one place you cannot miss out on is ‘Het Wapen van Wijk aan Zee’, a small pub located just a 5-minute walk away from the playing venue. Here, you will always find a chess board, but you will have to fight your way through an incredible number of both chess players and enthusiasts if you want to actually get a game! From simple blitz to playing hand and brain (a popular and fun form of pairs chess) with the World Champion, you never know what awaits you... 

IM Robert Ris and myself accepting resignation from Miss Strategy and her partner | photos: Joyce van Amersfoort

See also:

WIM Fiona Steil-Antoni

Fiona is currently a contributor for chess24. She started playing chess at age nine, earned the WIM title in 2010 and won a gold medal on board two at the 2006 Olympiad. She has worked as a press officer, commentator or interviewer at the Reykjavik Open, the PokerStars Isle of Man International Tournament, the 2015 European Team Chess Championship, the London Chess Classic and the Qatar Masters Open.

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